Monday, February 28, 2011

Goodbye Jenny.


The next stop after leaving St. Johns were the Indians, a ring of jagged boulders rising out of the ocean and one of the best snorkeling and diving sights in the Caribbean.  We enjoyed the snorkeling, and climbing up the rocks, but spent most of our time posing for a photos shoot all wearing our "Bill" shirts.  Bill was our river boss while river rafting this past Summer in Wyoming.  I had had some commemorative t-shirts printed up and we wanted a few good photos to send him of us in our "Bill Wear".



After an afternoon in the water, we continued on to Norman's Island in the British Virgin Islands, another recommendation from the friendly information kiosk man in Cruz Bay.  


The island is almost entirely wildlife refuge with a huge protected harbor on the west end filled with mooring buoys.  Permanently at anchor here as well is an old, steel ship converted to a floating restaurant.  There is no bridge and no nearby town.  The restaurant survives entirely on the business of the transient boaters moored in the harbor.  The place is called "Willie T's" and when the sun goes down, there's no where else to go.  So, every night's a party.  We'd been hearing a lot of hype and I was pleased to see it wasn't just idle talk.  I think we made our presence known on the dance floor.  Mark cut his foot open and we decided to go to bed. 



From Willie T's we sailed north to Tortola.  Jenny had a plane to catch back to a job in West Virginia.  Her last night aboard we anchored in a quiet cove for a home cooked dinner and an evening of card playing and reliving our recent adventures.  It had been an eventful week .  The next morning we sailed to the airport, dropped her off in the dinghy and waved as she walked off down the road to the terminal.  Strolla's crew was back to four.


Sunday, February 27, 2011

St. Johns for the Superbowl




We made the short sail from St. Thomas to Cruz Bay on St. John, squeezed our way in among the moored boats next to the ferry dock, and dropped anchor.  Now trying to cram five into our sorely overworked little dinghy, we wanted as short a commute to land as possible.


A quick canvasing of the town and we found the perfect watering hole to watch the Superbowl in, a pour your own drink bar.  Just like in an old western movie, the bartender sets a glass and a bottle on the bar in front of you.  We were still pretty tired from the night before and although we made a valiant effort, nobody's heart was really in it.  I don't even remember who won the game.  Mark is the only real sports enthusiast of the group.  Jenny fell asleep at the table and was drooling into her lap by the start of the fourth quarter.

The next day, I answered some emails while the crew plus one went for a hike in the national park.  Another evening out on the town followed, this time playing a game Jenny introduced us to called pub golf.  We were joined by Cassie and Scott, two United Airlines pilots on vacation who, for some reason, thought we looked like a good time.  With our numbers now swollen to seven, shenanigans ensued, but the evening ended early when Jenny disappeared.  A concerned crew divided the town into search quadrants and wandered the streets in the wee morning hours calling her name.  Jenny had headed back to the dinghy alone where she was eventually discovered sleeping softly in an inch of standing water.

Scott and Cassie turned out to be an excellent addition to the group.  They even took part in our stumbling search efforts.  As we parted ways at the end of the night, I invited them to come sailing with us the next day. A meeting time and place were set and the next morning, still half asleep, sunglasses firmly in place, I dragged myself ashore for the rendezvous.  Imagine my surprise when they actually showed up.  They seemed equally shocked to find that I'd remembered as well.  Happy reunion.  They'd brought lunch and beverages.


With seven aboard Strolla, people were starting to get in each other's way but, the weather was perfect and the distances were short.  We were headed to Carvel Rock, only a couple miles off, where there was an 80 ft jumping cliff.  We'd been told that there had once been a rock climbing company that led climbs up to the top but now was no more.  The jumping spot was a local secret, difficult to get to, difficult to get up.  Mark, Nate, Jenny, and I climbed to the top.  Becca, Cassie, and Scott took a pass.  However, of the four of us, not one had the guts to jump from the full height.  We all chickened out and scrambled down to lower ledges from which to leap in the churning ocean below.  

  

In total, we spent three days and nights in Cruz Bay and all agreed St. Johns makes our top five favorite places of the trip so far.  We made our goodbyes to Cassie and Scott and set off along the coast towards the British Virgin Islands.  Halfway along the north shore, just outside the national park boundary, we ducking into a small inlet protected by reefs.  Our own private cove.  Conch hunting, snorkeling, campfire on the beach, hammock in the trees.  Perfect.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Jenny Arrives

Jenny's plane from Washington D.C. via San Juan landed early the next morning.  She met us for breakfast and then, needing nothing more in Charlotte Amalie, the five of us loaded into our dinghy and headed out to Strolla.  We'd cleaned for her arrival.  Jenny said she was impressed.


It was Saturday night and we'd been advised that most of the bars were on the eastern end of the island in Red Hook Bay.  Up anchor, all hands to set sail, and off we went.  Though the wind was even stronger than the day before, we were sheltered from the waves somewhat by the island and conditions felt calmer.  We settled in for a pleasant half day cruise to Red Hook.  Jenny as the newest member of the crew, took up station at the leeward quarter rail so she could safely give her breakfast to the fishes without getting any on us.  She wasn't happy but she didn't complain and we all agreed is was impressive how much she was able to bring back up.

The big excitement of the day came a few hours later, announced by a loud bang.  We were close hauled, reaching hard into oncoming seas under reefed mainsail and jib.  I was at the helm.  Jenny was still staring bleakly at the water racing by beneath her chin.  Everyone else was down in the cabin.  At the sound of the report, my eyes flicked to the rigging to see if anything was amiss.  The forestay to which the jib was attached swung loose and limp from the mast.  Not good.

I yanked Jenny onto the tiller and dashed forward for a closer look.  The forestay had parted at the masthead.  The jib and stay hung limply from the jib halyard.  Definitely not good.  Easily the most serious equipment failure of the trip.  By now, everyone else was on deck and we had the jib furled in short order.  Strolla came equipped with a backup forestay for just such near disasters.  

I quickly attached it now, pulling the rather alarming sag out of the backstay as I did.  Then, with a sigh of relief, I scooted back along the swaying deck to the cockpit where Jenny was glaring at me.  She didn't know how to steer with a tiller and would have been in no condition to, even if she had.  I returned to the tiller just in time for  her to stick her head back over the side, another disaster averted.


We pulled in to Red Hook Bay with no further mishaps.  The color returned to Jenny's face.  We ate an early dinner and just after dark, Mark, Jenny, and I loaded into the dinghy for an evening ashore.  The wind was still howling, kicking up waves in the bay.  We were anchored out towards the edge of the bay.  The farther we took our dinghy down the bay, the farther we'd have to come back at the end of the night, against the wind.  It would be a rough, wet ride.  If we ran out of gas, we wouldn't get  back at all.  

We opted to head for the closest point of land, only about fifty yards away, a dark, deserted stretch of sand and trees.  When we reached shore, in our hurry to be out and ashore before the surf could knock us, we all stood up at once.  Mark, in front, stepped out first and, as his weight lifted, the back end of the dinghy where Jenny and I were went down.  Jenny began to fall back, arm flung out to catch herself on the only thing in reach, me.  I began to fall back, trying to catch myself similarly.  Holding each other tightly, we toppled backward into the dark water.   

I still can't quite believe it happened.  There was no way mitigate the disaster, no way to lessen the impact.  We landed flat on our backs, submerged to our chins.  Mark watched spellbound from shore as we struggled to our feet, then pulled the dinghy above the tide line and led the charge into the underbrush, looking for the nearest road.  

I'll admit a moment's hesitation here.  The idea of heading off for a night out on the town covered in sand and dripping salt water gave me reason to pause.  If I'd been able to do so gracefully, I would have headed straight back to the boat to change and to stay but, not missing a beat, Jenny followed after Mark and I had no choice but to bring up the rear.  

After a few seconds of bushwacking, we stumbled upon a dirt trail that took us through a marshy area and then to a dirt road that took us to a ramshackle marina bar and restaurant called "Latitude 18".  There was live music, a band singing a cross between Bluegrass and Jimmy Buffet.  The place was packed.  People were dancing.  No one seemed to notice the puddle we left on the floor.  I slapped a few soggy dollars down on the bar and bought the first round.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Culebrita


From Puerto Del Rey we struck east to the island of Culebra where we enjoyed microbrew beer for the first time months, discovered that we'd lost our tolerance for alcohol, and then headed on to Culebrita, our jumping point to the U.S. Virgin Islands.  We were fishing all the way and caught two little Bluefin Tuna in close succession, our first of the trip.  Mark pan seared the steaks to have with rice.  We saved the smaller scraps until we could buy veggies and wasabi and make sushi bowls.  High living.



Culebrita is Culebra's smaller eastern sister and was hands down our favorite, pristine, uninhabited, part of Puerto Rico's national park lands.  The complimentary moorings were convenient, if a bit exposed to the swells.  The sea turtles swimming lazily around us as we tied up were fantastic, but what really sold us on the place were the "jacuzzis".


As one of the eastern most islands in Puerto Rico, the coastal cliffs of Culebrita bear the full brunt of the Trade wind whipped ocean swells.  Interspersed among the the rocky points are narrow gaps leading to large, protected tidal pools.  The waves, chased by the winds, crash through these natural funnels, erupting into the tidal pools in a roar of white, frothy water.


We spent the whole afternoon playing, climbing, cliff jumping.  The best sport to be had turned out to be throwing ourselves into the middle of the funnels and seeing how long we could tread water, holding place in the foam covered ocean surges before being dashed up on the rocks.  A few scraped toes and bloody knees resulted but no real injuries to speak of.  Mark lost a contact lens and spent the rest of the day rock scrambling with no depth perception.  Becca chose not to partake.



The next morning broke gray and stormy.  Even in the protection of our rolling little harbor, the wind whined through the rigging.  I was tired and sore and there was much still left to explore but, we had a date to make on St. Thomas.  Our mutual friend from the Summer, Jenny Durham, was flying in to join us for a week.  With a sigh and a slow start, we creaked out of our bunks and began the process of weighing anchor.  It was a bit of a slog, slow and rough, bashing our way head first into the same waves we'd had so much fun playing in the day before.  I felt a little queasy. 


By late morning, with Mark in the cabin reading and Nate, Becca and I braving the driven spray swept deck, I spotted a plume of white steam rising away on our port bow.

"Thar she blows!" I shrieked, racing forward to the shrouds for a better view.  We crowded the port rail, staring hard across the white capped waves.  Then, I saw another plume, and another.  We all saw them, the black, glossy backs of three whales slipping in and out of the steely gray waters.  They expelled two more huge breaths each and, with a final flip of their tails, dove back beneath the waves.  Our first whale sighting of the trip, we were still excited hours later.

The clouds burned off by lunch time and the sun resumed its blazing fury.  Mark stayed on deck with us to take in some rays.  We were all very excited about Jenny's impending visit.  Mark especially.  He'd determined that the best way to welcome her to the crew was to present a well bronzed behind.  He's been working on erasing his tan lines since Salinas and results are finally appearing.


I'll admit, I've joined him in sporadic sympathy sessions, primarily when I'm snorkeling.  The other boaters at the reefs seem to appreciate my efforts.  Naturally, with both of us racing to put color on our cheeks, a healthy competition has arisen.  Without question, my butt is the bronzest.  Nate is our judge and color critic.  Becca has taken to studying clouds.

 

In Charlotte Amalie, on St. Thomas, we left the boat at anchor and headed ashore to look around.  Nothing but jewelry, watch, and liquor stores.  Yes, all one store.  No, we didn't make any purchases.  No one needed a $4,000 watch, and we had stocked up on liquor and beer in Puerto Rico.  We stepped in only to enjoy the air conditioning.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Fun with the Navy


From Salinas eastward was fairly uneventful, a series of pretty harbors and secluded anchorages interspersed with short little morning motor sails.  Nothing really happened until we turned the southeast corner of the island and began to make our way north.  That afternoon we put in at Roosevelt Roads, a large U.S. naval base with a marina, open to navy retirees, tucked in at the back of the harbor.  We figured with Nate's past service in the Marine Corps, we'd have no trouble and and hoped his military ID would allow us to pick up some cheap provisions at the PX there.
As we entered the mouth of the harbor, pushed along on a light tailwind, not another ship could be seen stirring.  The harbor was empty.  No patrol boats or helicopters circled near.  No gray naval ships lined the concrete piers.  No fishing boats or dinghies broke the silence or rippled the waters with their wake.  We could see the marina at the far end but no activity there either.  The place looked abandoned.
We dropped anchor among some other boats near the marina docks and went merrily about the business of tidying the boat and readying the dinghy for an adventure ashore.  We were close enough now that we could see there were some people about, old men mostly, puttering around the docks.  I also noticed a white Dodge Durango with a blue police light flashing in its windshield.  Two men leaned against it, arms folded, lost in conversation, one dressed in blue, the other in black.  I gave them no more notice.

By the time we were ready to go ashore, the man in blue was gone.  The man in black had moved out to the end of dock closest to us.  He shouted at us and motioned us over in an abrupt, military fashion.  Nate and I went over, finally sensing that something was amiss.  As we drew closer, the man pointed at us and then at the edge of the dock beside his feet.  He then motioned for us to slow down.

By now, we were the only ones in the marina.  His was the only dock.  We were only moving at three miles an hour.  I interpreted these actions as an assertion of authority.  He was giving unnecessary orders so there would be no confusion as to who was in charge.  It set me on edge.  We tied up to the dock at his feet and remained seated in the dinghy while he loomed over us, he steel toed boots blocking our exit.  He was dressed entirely in black except for his brown leather gun holster.  He asked what we thought we were doing.

Nate, more familiar than I with military rules and the men who enforce them, perhaps sensing my immediate dislike and distrust of this man, perhaps sensing the true powerlessness of our situation, spoke before I could. He explained the situation, explained our assumptions, apologized continuously, handed up his military ID.  Still angered by our impolite reception, I asked if we'd done something wrong.

"I'll say you have," he spat back at me.  "You've broken onto an active naval base."  Nate shot me a meaningful look and I bit my tongue.  "If you'd been a few minutes longer," he continued, "I wouldn't just be talking to you.  You'd have been handcuffed and then maced."  Again, I bit my tongue.   He seemed mean spirited enough to do it.

While Nate continued his apologizing and recounted his active service record, a few questions ran through my mind.  If what we'd done was such a big deal, why hadn't we been stopped by a patrol boat on the way in?  Why hadn't anyone made any effort until now to let us know?  If he was such a big deal, why had he had to sit on the dock for half an hour waiting for us to come to him?

The man decided to cut us a brake and let us stay and use the marina services free of charge and even offered to loan Nate the use of his truck to go to the grocery store on account of Nate's being a "warrior".  That night, outside the marina showers, we ran into an old navy veteran living on his boat.  He explained things to us.  The base was in the process of being decommissioned.  It was already almost completely closed down.  That's why there was no one around, no ships in the harbor, no patrol boats to stop us at the mouth.

We cooked a big dinner, drank up the rest of the beer aboard, and had a dance party in the cabin.  The next morning, we left at first light.





Saturday, February 12, 2011

First impressions of Puerto Rico

My first impressions of Puerto Rico were not favorable.  After enjoying the cheap prices in the Dominican Republic it was a bit of a shock to return to American prices.  Additionally, the beer here, we discovered to our dismay, comes standard in 10 oz cans, a tough adjustment after the 20 oz bottles of the Dominican Republic.

The Trade winds blow here, unabated and unhindered, and the strategy recommend to us by our cruising guide was to make little 2-5 hour hops, darting from harbor to harbor along the coast in the wee hours of the morning, when conditions were at their calmest.

From Boqueron to La Paguera to Ponce, the the second largest city on the island.  From here, I'd made plans to fly to Colorado to visit my girlfriend for a week.  The cheapest flights to the states were out of San Juan, on the north coast, only an hour and a half by car from Ponce, located on the south coast.  When I booked the flight, I'd foolishly assumed there would be some kind of public transportation between the two largest cities in the country.  There isn't.  I'm still a little angry at Puerto Rico for that.  I had to take a taxi from Ponce to the airport in San Juan for $120.

While I was away snowshoeing in Breckenridge, the crew moved the boat on down the coast to Salinas without me.  I'll admit this made me a little nervous but, they had almost as good a time without me as I had without them.  They got to Salinas without mishap, rented a car, spent two days in San Juan sightseeing and then picked me up from the airport.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Crossing the Mona

Between our departure from Samana and our arrival in Boqueron was the long anticipated and feared crossing of the Mona Passage.  After our crossing of the Gulf stream at the very start of our trip, it is this stretch of ocean that we have been warned most about.

The passage is a gap between the islands of Hispanola and Puerto Rico, connecting the Caribbean sea with the Atlantic ocean.  In the middle, the waters shoal from more than 2,000 ft to less than 200 in under a mile, not shallow enough to run aground, but more than enough to trip up the long, lazy ocean swells and leave them stacked steep and nasty for a 31 ft boat.  Additionally, the Trade winds, stronger and steadier and more directly out of the east than they are farther north, can easily turn a 30 hour crossing into 60 or more.  The key, as always, was to wait until the weather was right.

Our weather wasn't quite right, but it was as good as it was going to get for another week at least.  The crew were anxious to go.  It wouldn't be pleasant, but it wouldn't be too terribly difficult either.  We all knew by now what we were agreeing to.

We left Samana at 5:10 pm, in the evening calm, on a close reach southeast across the bay and then motored along the shore through the night.  By morning, we a mile offshore from Cabeza del Torro, the Bull's Head, the easternmost point of Hispanola.  From there, we tacked northeast, offshore, to avoid the rougher seas around the Hourglass shoals and get well north before the afternoon thunderstorms started drifting across from Puerto Rico.  By nightfall we were ready to tack again, heading southeast once more on a path that we hoped would take us up under the protection of the Puerto Rican coastline for our final leg into the port of Boqueron.


The conditions weren't the worst we'd seen, but as expected, they weren't pleasant.  We were all seasick.  Too rough for anyone but Mark to be down in the cabin for any length of time, too rough to read, too rough to cook or sleep comfortably.  We huddled in the cockpit, staring weakly out at the lumpy ocean, tired but unable to sleep, hungry but unable to eat.

Fifty hours after leaving Samana, we dropped anchor in the port of Boqueron.  The only thing I'd managed to hold down in all that time was a peanut butter sandwich.  At rest in calm waters at last, we ate and slept and then went ashore to eat some more.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Welcome to paradise


Los Haitises National Park in the Dominican Republic turned out to be an incredible coastal maze of cliffs and coves and caves, all dripping with vines and hidden by deep mangrove swamps.  We spent two and a half days there, alone in the park, swinging from coconut trees and jumping off cliffs and climbing caves.  



The park, we found, was best explored by dinghy.  Without fear of grounding, we could race up the mangrove rivers and search out the secret, jungle shrouded lagoons.  Trails led inland to crumbling cave mouths, like Mayan tombs gaping in the leaf litter of the jungle floor, all waiting to be wriggled through.  Bats and owls and towering stalagmites awaited. 



Long before I'd eaten enough coconut, or tired of tracing the park's endless coastal meandering, the weather on the Mona Passage began to improve.  We weighed anchor in the pre-dawn light and reached back across the bay to Samana to prepare for Puerto Rico.


Friday, February 4, 2011

Samana

The trip from Luperon to Samana was fairly straightforward but, after two weeks in one place it felt great to get back into the routine of life underway.

Luperon  was a very well protected harbor, completely shielded from the oceans swells by a narrow mouth making a 90 degree turn into a wide harbor.  The farther in you went, the less water circulation there was.  We were anchored pretty far in.  More than 100 other boats lay at anchor, scattered throughout the harbor while we were there.  Mark counted.

The Strolla's underside, back out in the ocean once more, was gray and mossy.  Nothing we could do about that at the moment.  The bottom of our dinghy was equally unpleasant.  There was something we could do about that.  With driver's licenses and credit cards, Mark and I spent half an hour scrapping the algae growth and barnacles off the dinghy's rubber bottom and then washing it down with bucket after bucket of clean, clear sea water.

The trip to Samana from Luperon was an overnight one.  We expected to arrive midmorning the next day.  About 2200 that night, I was at the helm.  Mark was up next.  I'd spent much of my shift steering towards a series of tiny lights along the horizon.  In the few minutes before Mark was to take over, I watched as those lights winked out one by one.  Squall coming, fast.  Reduced to steering by compass, I felt the first sporadic raindrops begin to fall.  I yelled to Mark, still down in the cabin.  He came up, still sleepy, sipping coffee.  I sent him back down for a raincoat.  As soon as he took the helm, I dove inside just as the raindrops began to quicken.  Within minutes, the deluge was upon us.

Mark later described it to me as the hardest rain he'd ever seen.  It certainly was the hardest rain I'd ever seen, but I watched it through the tinted Plexiglas of the companionway cover, snug and dry.  The rain fell so hard, Mark couldn't lift his head, couldn't even see the hand compass held in front of his face.  I had to shout directions to him over the roar of the rain.  Looking at our recorded route on the chartplotter the next morning, it was easy to see when the squall had hit.  It looked like someone had sneezed while drawing a straight line.

Samana wasn't much of a town.  The harbor has been discovered by the cruise ship lines in recent years.  Cheap, tourist stores line the streets filled with over priced knick knacks.  Taxi drivers and store vendors are much more aggressive in their attempts to win your business.  After an afternoon of walking around, we were tired of being hassled.  The weather still wasn't great to make the crossing to Puerto Rico so we crossed the bay visit Los Haitises National Park for a couple days of climbing and cliff diving.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Leaving Luperon


Back in Luperon after our week inland, I was pleased to see the boat still floating cheerfully out in the harbor.  A quick check of the bilge showed only a few cups of water.  Mark's patch seemed to be holding.

Flush from adventures in the mountains, we were eager to ship out again.  Strolla was given a good scrubbing, and put back in order.  We returned to studying the weather forecasts with renewed vigor.  Our arrival back in Luperon was well timed.  A stretch of weather was predicted in a few days that would be ideal for making an eastward passage to Samana, the staging point for a crossing to Puerto Rico.  We weren't the only ones preparing to leave.  A number of other boats were also taking advantage of the perfect weather.  The harbor was busy.

The day before we'd planned to leave we made a big shopping trip and loaded up on what I hoped would be enough rice and pasta and other nonperishables to last us the rest of the trip.  We also took aboard five dozen chicken eggs.  The eggs here come straight from the farm to the store.  As such, their shells still bore the residue of that end of the chicken from which they came.  Because they'd never been refrigerated, they last much longer unrefrigerated, about two months apparently, than eggs from home.  Egg salad, omelets, pickled eggs, its amazing how many varied and delicious meals can be made with eggs.  I've even started breaking a couple in my beers each night to help me grow strong.

The last step before departure was to clear out of customs.  We'd made the decision to clear into customs upon arrival and so, as we were already in the books, felt duty bound to make a legal departure as well.  our last day in Luperon, I grabbed the passports and ship's documents and headed to the port authority office.  It was late afternoon.  The official had gone home early.  The customs office next door was still open though and, after waiting half an hour, the man admitted me, glanced briefly through the passports and dismissed me.  He had stamped nothing, written nothing down, given me no paper to indicate that I had been cleared to depart.

He sent me across the footbridge over the drainage ditch and up the hill to get final departure clearance from the Commandante of the naval station.  The Commandante was not in.  Two young guys in gym shorts and t-shirts took down our information at the front desk.

They were very friendly and very bored with their job and very, very slow.  They stopped their copying repeatedly to pace around the room, to adjust the worn 9mm pistols tucked in their elastic waistbands, to engage my broken Spanish in lively debate.  They maintained a running argument about the actual name of the United States.  One believed it to be "U.S.A."  The other adamantly insisted it was "Los Estados Unidos" ("The United States" in Spanish). My opinion was consulted and disregarded and consulted again.  Finally, with the smug smirk of victory, one strode to a large map of the world on the wall and pointed.  "U.S.A."  The issue was settled.

After forty-five minutes, with our names, birthdays, and passport numbers carefully penciled into the ledger and me waiting impatiently for something to happen next, a call came into the station.  Seconds later, men were racing out the front door behind me, buttoning up camouflage fatigue jackets as they went, assault rifles slung awkwardly over their shoulders.  The two guys with me stared glumly after, anxious and agitated.  They were missing the action.  It didn't take long for the naval station to empty out.  Alone in the suddenly silent office, one of the two guys arrived at a decision.  I would have to come back tomorrow.

"What time?" I asked.  The station would be open at 6:00 a.m. they informed me.  They dodged into the back room.  I stayed where I was until they reemerged and ran past me.  Alone in the station, bewildered, I collected the passports and wandered back down toward the docks.

As I passed the guard's hut in the dark, the guard called out to me.  The port authority official who'd gone home early was on his way back to the office to see me.  I sat in the dark with the guard for another fifteen minutes until he arrived.  He roared up on his motorcycle, Denim jacket flapping in the breeze over denim shirt and jeans.  With the brisk air of a man in charge, he motioned for the guard and I to follow him around the corner of the office building.  He'd forgotten the key to his office.  We gave him a boost through the side window.

There was a fee to gain departure clearance from the Port Authority, $15.  I didn't have any money on me.  I also wasn't so sure at this point that I even felt like clearing out of customs anymore.  The official was holding  my passports and registration.  I said I'd have to come back and pay in the morning and leaned forward to take back my documents.  He pulled them out of reach.  He would be happy, he said, to wait while I went back for more money.

Foiled, I left the office and headed out along the government wharf to the dinghy dock.  Mark, Nate, and Becca had gone back to the boat in the dinghy.  Mark was supposed to return for me.  I had no idea when.  He wasn't back yet.  The navy high speed gun boat was gone from its berth on the end of the pier.  It hadn't moved since we'd arrived.  Strange men dressed in black, with bullet proof vests and thigh holsters were milling about.  Something was up.

Mark arrived in the dinghy.  He didn't have any money.  I left him on the dock and raced back to get my wallet.  Then the two of us walked back to the port authority office together where we shouted and gestured dramatically to show our displeasure.  The official still held our passports.  We paid, collected our things and went home to the boat and bed.

The next morning I was back at the naval office at six.  One of the same guys I'd dealt with the evening before was on duty in the front office, sound asleep at the desk, in the dark, head against the wall, mouth open.  I tiptoed back outside and came in again loudly.  He woke up and turned the lights on.  The Commandante wasn't in.  He said I should come back in a couple hours.

This answer made me angry.  After all, it had been he who'd told me to be there at six.  I'd even made him repeat it several times to be sure.  To show my anger, I said I'd wait.  There would be no more sleeping for him that morning.  I sat down, pulled out a granola bar and my book, and began reading.  Half an hour later, the power went out in the naval station, casting the office once more in darkness.  The guy walked out of the room to sort it out.  He didn't return.  I think he probably went back to sleep.  Sitting in the plastic deck chair, in the dark office, I was soon asleep too.

Two and a half hours later, the naval station had come alive.  The power was still out but the sun was up now.  I was awake and reading comfortably, ignored by everyone.  Someone, newly arrived at work, took notice and politely informed me that the harbor was closed to departures until further notice.  

As I traversed the foot bridge below the station yet again, another man caught up with me to give a more thorough explanation.  What I was able to glean from his rapid Spanish was that there had been a big drug bust on a boat just outside the harbor the night before.  That's what all the excitement had been.  The port was closed but, should be open by the next morning.  I could come back for my clearance papers then.

The next morning the naval station was back to business.  Passport information was taken again, this time quickly and seriously.  Forms were filled out and stamped.  Money changed hands.  I was ready for it this time, and then two men in combat boots and battle fatigues piled into my little eight foot dinghy with me to go out and make a final inspection of Strolla.  We ran out of gas but, I was ready for that too and topped us off with the little jerry can of outboard fuel.  When we got to Strolla, my crew were all still asleep.  I gave them a "Hello," waited awkwardly in the dinghy for them to get dressed, and then we three hauled ourselves aboard.

After a cursory walk through the boat, the soldiers got back in the dinghy with me and motored back towards the dock.  On our way through the harbor, we passed a catamaran, just arriving in port, having taken advantage of the same weather window we'd hoped to.  Seeing a chance to save themselves a second trip out, the soldiers motioned for me to take them to this boat.

The Canadian family of three on board, worn out and disorganized after an overnight passage from the Turks and Caicos, seemed a bit alarmed to spy me racing up on their stern in my little dinghy with two uniformed men crouched in the bow cradling assault rifles between their knees.  


The family spoke no Spanish.  The soldiers spoke no English.  I became their interpretor.  I did the best I could, standing in the cockpit with the wife, explaining and apologizing, while the soldiers poked around the cabin and the husband scrambled for their documents.

The soldiers intended for me to wait until they'd finished so that I could continue taking them  back ashore.  The wife on the catamaran, quickly grasping the situation, offered to take them back instead, releasing me from my duty.  Before anyone could change their mind, I jumped in my dinghy and fled back to Strolla.  The crew were ready and waiting.  We lost no time weighing anchor and sped out to sea, bound for Samana.